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Developing and Facilitating Leadership

Dr. Garry McKinnon

Team Ferbey
As I continue my series of blogs on school leadership with reference to the seven competencies outlined in the Alberta Education Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders framework, I will highlight the fifth dimension-Developing and Facilitating Leadership. In an earlier blog I made reference to the evolving concept of school leadership, which I described as the Ferby model with reference to Randy Ferby and his Edmonton curling team which has been highly successful at the provincial, national and international level. As Skip of the team, Ferby introduced a new approach to team leadership by having his Third throw the last rocks and encouraging his team members to actively and collaboratively participate in considering various strategies in deciding on the preferred course of action. In the past, the Skip would call the shots and the other team members would not question his/her judgment or share in the leadership role. Similarly, the school principal was seen as the individual in charge whose leadership and decision-making role was unquestioned.
Clearly, there is a new approach to leadership in education which highlights the efficacy of collaboration, sharing the leadership role and developing leadership in others. This new vision of school leadership is consistent with what we have learned about learning and teaching. We recognize that individuals should not learn in isolation and that collaboratively much more can be accomplished than what any individual can achieve alone. Teachers promote group work, team building and the development of collaboration skills among their students and similarly school administrators should make provision for teachers to collaborate and they should provide ongoing opportunities for co-learning among the members of the school community.

The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools (TAAPCS) has received an Alberta Education grant to bring charter school superintendents and school administrators together as co-learners to explore through inquiry, this new approach to school leadership and to develop strategies for making the Alberta Education, Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders document a living framework. There are over 40 participants representing each of the 13 charter schools in the province involved in this exciting initiative. The participants have taken part in two professional learning sessions focusing on the seven leadership competencies and there will be two more sessions in the second half of the school year. The focus of the sessions is on fostering school leader growth through differentiated and job-embedded professional learning experiences designed to address the realities of varying school contexts. A key goal of the project is to identify best practices which can be replicated in other schools in Alberta. Dr. Jim Brandon, Associate Professor in the University of Calgary, Faculty of Education is serving as an “outside expert” and facilitator of the learning experience which involves charter school superintendents and school administrators as presenters and resource persons. The learning experience promotes the active participation of the school administrator participants in: developing professional leadership growth plans; utilizing survey feedback from staff members; maintaining reflective journals; responding to a series of blogs on school leadership and enhancing the learning experience through interacting with co-learning partners and visiting their partner’s schools. As well, Dr. Brandon is working with the TAAPCS Executive Director Dr. Garry Andrews and members of the School Leadership Learning initiative steering committee to conduct a participatory research on the impact of this initiative. Highlights, exemplary practices, challenges and barriers will be described and recommendations for developing and facilitating school leadership that will be relevant and meaningful for charter schools and other school jurisdictions will be identified.

In establishing the context for a discussion of school leadership, I believe it is fundamentally important to acknowledge that the teacher is the key leader in the school. In discussing school leadership too frequently we become embroiled in attempting to make meaning of complex theories of leadership and we lose sight of the reality that leaders in various roles in education in order to be successful should simply strive to demonstrate the qualities of an exemplary teacher. I encourage you to re-examine the 16 descriptors in the Calgary Science School Exemplary Teaching framework from the perspective of the exemplars serving as a model for school leadership. Phil Butterfield, one of the Calgary Science School Assistant Principals is involved in completing a doctorate through the University of Calgary with a research focus on promoting inquiry-based leadership in our schools. One aspect of his research involved working with members of the school community in describing the qualities of exemplary leadership and he is in the process of developing a Calgary Science School framework for exemplary leadership to accompany the frameworks for exemplary learning and teaching. His draft framework for exemplary leadership, which is still a work in progress is based on the same dimensions as the exemplary teaching framework. Phil generated a great discussion at the October 25 charter school leaders’ professional learning session as he shared his framework for exemplary leadership.

We need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal for all leaders in education from the classroom teacher to the Minister of Education is to facilitate a high level of authentic engagement of learners and to make every effort to ensure that all students experience success. We judge the success of teachers by the success of their students and similarly the success of individuals in formal leadership roles such as school principals and assistant principals, can be judged by the extent to which they develop leadership in others and their level of success in providing the setting and the incentives for staff members to work collaboratively with the ultimate goal of increasing student engagement and success. We learned from the experience of Calgary Science School teachers Amy Park and Deirdre Bailey that what may have been described in the past as a mentor/protegĂ© relationship can better be described as co-learning where individuals in leadership roles share expertise and ideas and make meaning of their experiences as they strive to collaboratively enhance learning and teaching. Another Calgary Science School teacher, Erin Couillard through her Research and Innovation project  provides further insights relating to the role of learning coaches as instructional leaders, working collaboratively with teachers.

We must be careful to avoid the misconception that developing leadership simply involves providing opportunities for individuals to work collaboratively. Teachers have found that putting students into groups and asking them to work as teams is not likely to be productive unless time is taken to outline expectations and develop the skills that are required to work collaboratively and to learn to take on a leadership role. In my blog on instructional leadership, I made reference to the idea of the student as instructional leader with students having an active voice in their learning in shaping the nature of the learning experiences. The ultimate goal in developing school leadership should be to develop all students as leaders.

Just as it is critical for students to develop the ability to work collaboratively and to take on leadership roles it is equally important for school administrators to develop skills and confidence in teamwork and collaboration. Principal DarrellLonsberry at the beginning of the school year involved staff members in a self-appraisal process using a collaboration rubric as a guide. During the school year teachers were encouraged to make reference to the rubric and to identify areas of strength as well as areas for further growth. The collaboration rubric was helpful in promoting a deeper understanding of collaboration and enhancing the effectiveness of teachers as team members and leaders. As well, the school administrative team members provide feedback and support to teachers as they develop their leadership skills, through informal fireside chats throughout the school year which focus on the teacher learning plans (growth plans), and teachers are encouraged to take on a variety of leadership roles within the school. Calgary Science School teacher Ivy Waite conducted a Research and Innovation project to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of collaboration among teachers and students. She identified collaboration as a key to exemplary learning and teaching. She developed a collaboration framework for teachers and is in the process of modifying it for students . Provision is also made for leadership development through the school professional learning days and financial support is provided for teachers to develop their knowledge and skills through graduate coursework. Students are also encouraged to contribute to the school as leaders through a variety of leadership development initiatives such as the Me to We program. The student voice is also heard through various strategies including student surveys, think tank sessions and a Student Advisory Council. Parents make a significant contribution to the school as leaders through a very active School Council and a well-organized parent volunteer program which promotes the involvement of a large number of parents in a variety of leadership roles.

The creation of a culture of collaboration involving all members of the school community, students, staff members and parents in developing and sharing their leadership skills is the key to success for exemplary school leadership. I welcome your comments and ideas in response to this blog on leadership development.

In my next blog, I will make reference to this sixth leadership dimension, Managing School Operations and Resources.

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